Consistency is the name of the game in the Men’s Alpine Skiing Giant Slalom World Cup. When you have three exceptional talents that are fighting it out for the race wins and subsequently for the Crystal Globe, points mean prizes … and the points at the top of the race are big. With his win in the Gran Risa, the first Austrian to win there since 1998, Hirscher has now moved sixty points ahead of Ted Ligety and sixty five ahead of Alexis Pinturault: 2013 – 14 is proving to be a hugely exciting year for Men’s Giant Slalom ski racing. When Fritz Dopfer came down into the lead, he must have been hoping that one of the three leaders could make a mistake! Dopfer had to be content with fourth and Tim Jitloff made it two Americans in the top five with fifth place.
In 2012 the Gran Risa was horribly icy. Ligety won the first run by 2.40 seconds and the gap to thirtieth was 5.98 seconds. Ligety was on fire. This year Ligety lead at the first split and for a moment you would have been excused in thinking that after his inside ski mistake in Val d’Isere that it was back to business as usual for Mr GS. By the second split on the first run, Ligety was behind Hirscher and Pinturault, both already safe in the finish area. Ligety had to be content with third in the finish area as the rest of the field fought over the minor places.
Alta Badia and the Gran Risa slope has steeps sections and dark sections as he comes out of the trees and is rightly considered one of the classics. Hirscher said after the race that he was glad to add the name of the Gran Risa to his list of wins so that when he looks back at the end of his career he has ticked another one of the classics off his list of race wins.
Despite finishing third, Ligety is still considered to be Mr Giant Slalom. Two bad race results does not mean the season is a bad one but with a deficit of 60 points to Hirscher and with Hirscher’s consistency, this is something that he will now need to address. Ligety recognises that his European season in December has not been the most auspicious and after the Rockfest race, is planning on heading back home to Park City for some relaxation.
For Alexis Pinturault, this was another promising result for the youngest of the three protagonists! Ligety and Pinturault spoke while waiting for the press conference and while Pinturault could not be persuaded to race in the Rockfest event with its â‚¬75,000 winner takes all cheque, the Frenchman is looking to going home and relaxing over the Christmas period. Asked if he would boost his chances in the Overall by doing more Super G and maybe downhill, and the Frenchman, admitted that he did fancy doing both but would take it step by step. He will race in the Super Combined in Wengen and maybe a few more Super G’s this year.
While Hirscher was delighted to beat Ligety in ‘his’ race, Ligety explained that he would be delighted to beat the Austrian in a slalom. At the moment, the balance of power lies with the Austrian, such is his dominance in Slalom and his re-emergence in Giant Slalom. It is two wins for both Hirscher and Ligety this season but with Hirscher having two third places against Ligety’s DNF in Val d’Isere and the third in Alta Badia.
And as for the rest of the field? Fritz Dopfer produced his best performance of the season to take third while Tim Jitloff, who has been beating Ligety ocassionally in training the American team said, placed equal fifth to equal his career best placing in a World Cup race. Having started at 31, this was an awesome performance for the American often in the shadow of Ligety. Felix Neureuther joined Jitloff in fifth place but could have had the place on his own had it not been for a mistake on the second run. The German was racing with his hand in a plaster after a training accident since returned from North America.
Benni Raich is now one of the most experienced (and successful) racers on the World Cup and it was great to see him mixing it with the younger guys. Raich battled down the second run showing touches of his old magic to post a time faster that all three of the podium places on the second run. He had starteed earlier but still with places on the Austrian Olympic team up for grabs, Raich is coming into form at the right tight. Raich won the GS and Slalom in the 2006 Turin Olympics.
Stefan Luitz showed that he is not just a racer for Val d’Isere as he came down into 8th place, just holding off Leif Kristian Haigen and Steve Missilier in tenth.
The run that made the crowd wake up and take notice was that of the baby faced assassin: Henrik Kristoffersen. The nineteen year old Norwegian was fastest of all on the second run, he qualified from bib number 40 and then was the only racer to make a low one eighteen second run fully over a second faster than Hirscher!
Next GS is Adelboden.